The Tempter's Voice: Language and the Fall in Medieval Literature

By Eric Jager | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
The Genesis of Hermeneutics

You clothed men with skins when by their sin they became
mortal. And so you have like a skin stretched out the
firmament of your book, that is, your words which so well
agree together and which, through the agency of mortal
men, you have placed above us.

—Augustine

PATRISTIC CULTURE bequeathed to the Middle Ages the notion that the Fall had involved an abuse of signs, texts, and interpretation, among other things, and that this crisis was exemplary for various hermeneutical problems faced by fallen humans.Exegetes used the Fall as a hermeneutical scene, both historical and allegorical, to account for such matters as humankind's loss of an original vision of the truth, its exile into a realm of ambiguous signs and interpretive toil, its subsequent need for a written revelation, the cause for the obscure "covering" of biblical allegory, and finally the interpretive principles that would keep Adam's and Eve's descendants from abusing God's scriptural word and thus repeating the hermeneutical errors of their first parents.

As with the school of Paradise, the hermeneutics of the Fall was largely invented by Augustine, who used Genesis I-3 as an expressive matrix for the theory of signs and scriptural exegesis that he bequeathed to the Middle Ages.While Augustine's hermeneutical theory had multiple sources in classical, Jewish, and earlier patristic authors, including of course his teacher Ambrose, in both their development and expression Augustine's ideas reflected his own "painful meditations on the effects of the Fall." i. Elaborated by later

____________________
i.
Forsyth, The Old Enemy, p. 425. A good introduction to Augustine's sign theory is Colish, The Mirror of Language, chap. I. For a more technical treatment,

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